In mid-December, European Union auditors discovered that 61,000 Palestinian Authority civil servants in the Gaza Strip had stopped showing up for work in 2007, after Hamas forcibly seized power in the coastal enclave. The discovery was all the more shocking because the EU pays one-fifth of the salaries for the PA's workforce of 170,000 employees, both in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Two weeks earlier, in a separate development, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA) refused to give in to demands by its employees' union in the West Bank, which demanded pay increases and the reinstatement of short-contract employees.
- PA pays former prisoners $10,000-$50,000 upon release
- Palestinian PM: Qatar grants Palestinians $150M
- Audit: EU paying Palestinians in Gaza to not work
The Palestinian union then began a strike – still ongoing – that has crippled the vast social services network provided to Palestinians, again with European funding, purportedly over the "dismissal" of 55 employees. The 55 employees were on temporary contracts, the funding for which ran out.
UNRWA management has reiterated multiple times that it does not have the funding to increase salaries across the board as its Palestinian staff are paid salaries that are more than 20 percent higher, on average, than the equivalent pay for a PA job.
The irony of the situation has not been picked up by the world media, because the forest of Palestinian suffering at Israeli hands is the only frame through which they can explain the situation in this volatile corner of the Middle East.
But the irony is there, in spades. Palestinian employees of a UN agency, who are handsomely paid compared to their neighbors and friends, are depriving those same neighbors and friends with benefits paid for by donor countries.
And the people who foot the bill, the European countries who jump at the opportunity to criticize Israel's human rights record, are mum as Palestinians in the West Bank suffer at the hands of those around them, suffer because money is being paid to PA employees in the Gaza Strip for sitting at home, suffer because the world has forgotten about the Palestinian refugees starving in Syria – to whom the PA is diverting much needed funds.
The daily rockets from Gaza, the shootings and the border clashes obscure the pressing facts on the ground. The countries that fund UNRWA and the PA but impose no conditions on the money must take responsibility.
There is a connection between events in the West Bank and in Syria, the food and medications in the humanitarian aid convoy sent by the PA to Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp are the very food and medications not going to Palestinians who are residents and constituents of the PA.
The spokesman for the Popular Committee for Refugees in Hebron echoed a popular and deep sentiment among Palestinians: "We fear that (UNRWA) might stray from its original role, which is to support all Palestinian refugees."
But UNRWA was created in 1949 to provide relief for 652,000 refugees who fled or were expelled from Israel during the war that led to its independence. Today, that same agency is tasked with the impossible mission of caring for every descendant of the people in its original mandate: more than 5 million Palestinians. If the agency is to succeed, it needs hands-on management from the people who fund it.
It is time for these donor nations, for the enlightened Europeans to stop washing their hands clean as soon as the funds have cleared the bank. Society judges a wealthy parent who grants his offspring a blank check and only shows up when their neglected child needs to post bail. The EU cannot be let off the hook when its funding is misappropriated, mishandled, and abused.
If the EU were to stop paying the PA's Gaza staff, it could afford the salary demands of the West Bank UNRWA staff (whether it should
is a different discussion). But just as a parent who does not hold his children to account cannot complain when they misbehave, so should the world not wash its hands clean when – not if – the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel fail due to the deteriorating situation in the West Bank.